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Elizabeth Erickson provides legal counsel on complex civil tax controversies, including tax litigation and transfer pricing matters. She has extensive experience in resolving domestic and international tax matters at all stages of dispute, including Internal Revenue Service examinations, administrative appeals, and litigation in the US Tax Court and district courts. She has advocated for clients before the Internal Revenue Service National Office, negotiated Advance Pricing Agreements with the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities, and resolved disputes through the Competent Authority process. Read Elizabeth Erickson's full bio.

The last few years have seen significant changes in audit procedures employed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). These changes range from the new Information Document Request (IDR) procedures to substantial changes at the IRS Appeals level. This post focuses on the IRS’s attempt to develop an agreed set of facts before a case is submitted to IRS Appeals.

As taxpayers and practitioners are aware, IDRs are the most-used tool by IRS revenue agents to obtain information and develop the factual record (other common tools include interviews and site visits). Revenue agents use IDRs in several ways, including to request documents, understand taxpayer positions and identify key personnel involved. The end result of this information gathering is a notice of proposed adjustment, which then forms the basis for the revenue agent’s report in an unagreed case. Continue Reading To Agree or Not to Agree, That Is the Question

We have covered on several occasions the changes in the past year to the IRS Appeals process. See here, here, here, here and here. The reactions from taxpayers and practitioners to the recent changes has, for the most part, been negative.

On May 9, 2017, the American Bar Association Section of Taxation provided comments to the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service regarding the recent changes at IRS Appeals (Comments). The comments, which can be found here, can be summarized as follows:

  • First, we recommend that Appeals reinstate the long-standing Internal Revenue Manual (Manual) provision regarding limited circumstances for attendance by representatives of the Service’s Examination divisions (Compliance) and the IRS Office of Chief Counsel (Counsel) at settlement conferences.
  • Second, we recommend that Appeals return the option for face-to-face settlement conferences to taxpayers.
  • Third, we recommend that Appeals publicly reaffirm that independent Appeals Technical Employees may, in all cases, evaluate the hazards of litigation on positions taken by Counsel.
  • Fourth, we offer some observations and suggestions regarding informal issue coordination in Appeals.
  • Fifth, we support the recent reaffirmation of Appeals Team Case Leader (ATCL) unilateral settlement authority.
  • Finally, we reiterate our recent comments with respect to docketed cases in Appeals’ jurisdiction.

Practice Point: We are observing many of the same changes in practices that are discussed in the Comments. Taxpayers and their advisors need to understand and be prepared for the different procedures and approaches being employed at IRS Appeals. These changes appear to be leading down a road where settlements may be more difficult to accomplish and, as a result, we may see an increase in tax litigation.

Here at McDermott, we value giving back to the community through pro bono efforts.  In particular, we provide substantial assistance in pro bono tax cases to low-income individuals through our relationships with low-income taxpayer clinics throughout the country.  Over the years, we have settled dozens of cases for low-income taxpayers in docketed tax cases and routinely reduced or eliminated deficiencies asserted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  When settlement has not been possible, we have litigated cases in the Tax Court and obtained favorable results not just for our clients but for the low-income taxpayer community as a whole.  For example, we represented a husband and wife on a penalty issue involving an issue of first impression and convinced the Tax Court that the IRS had for years been improperly asserting and collecting penalties on improperly claimed refundable tax credits. In a recent article, we detail some of the pro bono efforts by low-income taxpayer clinics and private practitioners.

Practice Point:  In addition to assisting low-income individuals who cannot afford legal representation, providing pro bono tax services benefits tax practitioners in many ways.  It provides the opportunity for younger attorneys to take responsibility for a case and to get valuable experience in dealing with clients, negotiating with the IRS, and potentially gaining courtroom experience.  Assisting taxpayers on a pro bono basis is also rewarding and can make a significant difference in the lives of low-income individuals.

They’re here!  On January 31, 2017, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Large Business & International (LB&I) division released its much-anticipated announcement related to the identification and selection of campaigns.  The initial list identifies 13 compliance issues that LB&I is focused on and lists the specific practice area involved and the lead executive for each campaign.  Prior coverage of audit campaigns can be found here.

The initial list, along with descriptions of each campaign, is as follows:

Domestic Campaigns

  • Section 48C Energy Credits

This campaign is designed to ensure that only taxpayers whose advanced energy projects were approved by the Department of Energy, and who have been allocated a credit by the IRS, are claiming the credit.  Apparently, there has been confusion regarding which taxpayers are entitled to claim the credits.

  • Micro-Captive Insurance

This campaign addresses certain transactions described in Notice 2016-66 in which a taxpayer reduces aggregate taxable income using contracts treated as insurance contracts and a related company that the parties treat as a captive insurance company.  We previously blogged about Notice 2016-66 here. Captive insurance, along with basketing and inbound distribution, were three subject-matter specific campaigns announced during LB&I’s initial rollout last summer, as we discussed in our prior post on the subject.

  • Deferred Variable Annuity Reserves & Life Insurance Reserves

This campaign seeks to address uncertainties on issues important to the life insurance industry, including amounts to be taken into account in determining tax reserves for both deferred variable annuities with guaranteed minimum benefits, and life insurance contracts.

  • Distributors (MVPD’s) and TV Broadcasts

This campaign is targeted at multichannel video programming distributors and television broadcasters that may claim that groups of channels or programs are a qualified film for purposes of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 199 deduction.  The description indicates that LB&I has developed a strategy to identify taxpayers impacted by the issue and that it intends to develop training, including the development of a publicly published practice unit, published guidance, and issue based exams, to aid revenue agents.  It appears that this campaign stems from various private guidance issued in 2010, 2014 and 2016 on these issues.

  • Related Party Transactions

This campaign is focused on transactions among commonly controlled entities that the IRS believes might provide a taxpayer a means to transfer fund from the corporation to related pass-through entities or shareholders.  The campaign is aimed at the mid-market segment.

  • Basket Transactions

This campaign focuses on certain financial transactions described in Notices 2015-73 and 74, which relate to so-called basket transactions.  Basketing was a topic named during LB&I’s initial campaign announcement last summer, along with captive insurance and inbound distribution.

  • Land Developers – Completed Contract Method

This campaign addresses the Service’s concern that large land developers that construct residential communities may improperly be using the completed contract method.  This campaign appears to be a response to the Tax Court’s opinion in the Shea Homes case (available here.

  • TEFRA Linkage Plan Strategy

This campaign is focused on developing new procedures and technology to work collaboratively with revenue agents conducting TEFRA partnership examinations to identify, link, and assess tax to terminal investors that pose the most significant compliance risk.

  • S Corporation Losses Claimed in Excess of Basis

This campaign is in response to LB&I’s views that shareholders in S corporations may be claiming losses and deductions in excess of stock or debt basis.

International Campaigns

  • Repatriation

This campaign focuses on tax transactions that LB&I believes are being used for purposes of tax-free repatriation of funds into the U.S. in the mid-market population.  The goal of the campaign is to improve issue selection filters while conducting examinations on identified, high risk repatriation issues to increase taxpayer compliance.

  • Form 1120-F Non-Filer

This campaign is designed to identify and contact foreign companies doing business in the United States that are not meeting their Form 1120-F filing obligations.  The goal is to increase voluntary compliance, starting with soft letter outreach and escalating to examinations.

  • Inbound Distributor

This campaign addresses transfer pricing in the context of United States distributors of goods sourced from foreign-related parties that may have reported gains or losses that are no commensurate with the functions performed and the risk assumed.  This campaign, along with the captive insurance and basketing campaigns, were among those announced last summer by LB&I.

  • OVDP Declines-Withdrawals

This campaign addresses situations where taxpayers that have sought to enter the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) have been either denied access to OVDP or have withdrawn from OVDP. After seven years of the program, with a number of very old offshore cases still unresolved, this campaign appears to be the first formal effort to deal with rejected OVDP cases in an expressly coordinated manner.  It will be interesting to see how this campaign develops in light of recent suggestions that the formal OVDP may be nearing an end.

Practice Point: Taxpayers with any of the above issues should be prepared for focused audits directed at the issue and would be well-served preparing in advance for audits. The above is the “initial” list of the IRS’s focused examination program.  Taxpayers should be prepared for the roll-out of additional IRS “campaigns” in the coming months.  It is clear that the IRS is mounting a coordinated attack, leveraging its ever-shrinking resources in overly complicated tax-environment.

With the inauguration of President Trump, and the accompanying change of administration, the American people have been promised great change in all areas of the federal government. One question we at McDermott have been frequently asked since the election is: what should a taxpayer expect from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) Tax Division while the transitions in the executive branch are taking place? Major tax policy changes are being discussed, but what about the immediate practical effects of a turnover in high-level personnel within these agencies, particularly if a taxpayer is under audit or investigation?

During a change in administration, taxpayers may be affected by any of the following:

  • If under audit, the exam team may ask for longer statute extensions than would otherwise apply, to account for possible delays in internal managerial-level approvals.
  • If a taxpayer is negotiating a settlement, and that settlement requires approval by the IRS National Office or the Assistant Attorney General for Tax, settlement approvals may be delayed due to personnel changes.
  • This applies to civil settlements reached with IRS Appeals, in Tax Court litigation, or in federal district court litigation. Delays are also possible for criminal agreements, including plea agreements, deferred prosecution agreements and non-prosecution agreements.
  • Ongoing litigation (particularly appellate litigation) may be stayed or delayed, to the extent a case involves a policy position that the administration may want to change.
  • The regulatory freeze enacted by the Trump administration also affects procedural regulations, including proposed regulations related to the new partnership audit rules.

Initial comments from prospective Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin indicate that he believes IRS staffing should be increased, which would be a welcome change.  Any significant changes like this are likely to be long-term, however, so we are unlikely to see their effect for some time.

On January 10, 2017, the National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson released her 2016 Annual Report to Congress.

According to the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), the report was delivered to Congress with no prior review by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner, the Secretary of the Treasury or the Office of Management and Budget.  The primary sections of the report include:

  • 2016 Special Focus – IRS Future State: The National Taxpayer Advocate’s Vision for a Taxpayer-Centric 21st Century Tax Administration
  • Most Serious Problems Encountered by Taxpayers
  • Recommendations to Congress
  • Most Litigated Issues
  • Taxpayer Advocate Service Research and Related Studies
  • Literature Reviews

Practice Point: TAS, an independent organization within the IRS, is an excellent (and often underutilized) resource for individual and corporate taxpayers who may be at a standstill with the IRS – especially on a technical, administrative, or “red-tape” issue. Taxpayers of all shapes and sizes should consider, where appropriate, utilizing the TAS in appropriate circumstances where they are encountering delays in the administration of their tax disputes.

This post is the first in a four-part series addressing highlights of the Annual Report that may be of interest to our readers.

In Notice 2016-66, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) identified a particular § 831(b) “micro-captive” transaction as a “transaction of interest” for purposes of § 1.6011-4(b)(6) of the Regulations and §§ 6111 and 6112 of the Internal Revenue Code. The notice also alerts persons involved in such transactions to certain responsibilities and penalties that may arise from their involvement with these transactions.

The US Department of the Treasury and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issue Priority Guidance Plans each year to identify and prioritize the tax issues they believe should be addressed through regulations, revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices and other published administrative guidance.  On October 31, 2016, the IRS and Treasury released the first quarter update to the 2016-2017 Priority Guidance Plan originally released on August 15, 2016.

The original plan identified 281 guidance projects as priorities, and the first quarter update includes an additional six guidance projects.  The additional projects include:

  • Guidance regarding the removal of the no-rule positions for certain legal issues concerning device and business purpose under section 355 (PUBLISHED 09/12/16 in IRB 2016-37 as REV. PROC. 2016-45 (RELEASED 08/26/16)).
  • Revenue procedure providing a self-certification procedure for waivers of the 60-day rollover requirement under §§402(c)(3) and 408(d)(3) (PUBLISHED 09/12/16 in IRB 2016-37 as REV. PROC. 2016-47 (RELEASED 08/24/16)).
  • Announcement on hardship distributions and loans from retirement plans as a result of Louisiana storms (PUBLISHED 09/12/16 in IRB 2016-37 as ANN. 2016-30 (RELEASED 08/30/16)).
  • Announcement concerning the tax treatment of payments made on behalf of or reimbursements received by residents affected by the Southern California Gas Company natural gas leak (PUBLISHED 08/01/16 in IRB 2016-31 as ANN. 2016-25 (RELEASED 07/19/16)).
  • Guidance for income and employment tax purposes on the treatment of cash payments made by employers under leave-based donation programs for the relief of victims of the Louisiana storms (PUBLISHED 10/03/16 in IRB 2016-40 as NOT. 2016-55 (RELEASED 09/16/16); and
  • Guidance under §909 related to foreign-initiated adjustments and the separation of foreign taxes and related income (PUBLISHED 10/03/16 in IRB 2016-40 as NOT. 2016-52 (RELEASED 09/15/16)).

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has revised the Internal Revenue Manual (IRM) regarding Appeals Conferences.  Below is a summary of material changes to IRM 8.6.1, effective October 1, 2016:

  • The IRM was revised to reflect that most conferences in Appeals will be conducted by telephone.  The revision also provides guidance for when in-person conferences are appropriate (e.g., when there are substantial books and records to review that cannot be easily referenced with page numbers or indices, or when there are numerous conference participants that create a risk of an unauthorized disclosure or breach of confidentiality).
  • IRM 8.6.1.4.1.2, In-Person Conferences: Circuit Riding was added.  If the assigned Appeals employee is in a post of duty that conducts circuit riding, circuit riding will be permitted when the address of the taxpayer, representative or business (for business entities) is more than 100 miles from a customer-facing virtual conference site or 150 miles from the nearest Appeals Office.  Area Directors have the discretion to deviate from these mileage limitations.  Circuit riding will also be allowed if the nearest Appeals Office cannot take the case due to high inventories or lack of technical expertise, or if there is no convenient alternative.
  • Language was added in IRM 8.6.1.4.4 to state that Appeals has the discretion to invite Counsel and/or Compliance to the conference.  The IRM notes that the prohibition against ex parte communications must not be violated and references Rev. Proc. 2012-18.
  • The definition of a new issue was updated in IRM 8.6.1.6.1(2).  The IRM retains prior language stating that a new issue is a matter not raised during Compliance’s consideration and adds that any issue not raised by Compliance in the report (e.g., 30-Day Letter) or rebuttal and disputed by the taxpayer is a new issue.

The revised IRM 8.6.1 is available here.

On June 24, 2016, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued a memorandum (AP-08-0616-0003, available here) to the IRS Appeals Division (Appeals) providing new, uniform procedures for requesting assistance from the Examination Division (Exam) in docketed Tax Court cases. The guidance implements standard procedures that would treat petitioners similarly. Currently, when petitioners provide new information to Appeals that was not previously considered by Exam, Appeals requests Exam’s assistance based on local procedures, which sometimes result in disparate treatment of petitioners. The guidance is effective on August 29, 2016.

Under the new procedures, Appeals will send a request for Exam’s assistance if Appeals determines that the new information merits additional analysis or investigation. If Exam approves the request, an Exam Agent may recommend changes to the proposed adjustment, including an increase in tax, based upon the new information. Appeals, however, is not required to adhere to Exam’s recommendations. Where acceptance of the Exam Agent’s recommended changes results in a new issue or an increased deficiency, the IRS generally must bear the burden of proof on such changes from the notice of deficiency pursuant to Tax Court Rule 142. If Exam denies the request, Appeals will consider settlement offers based on all information in the case file, and the probative value of the new information.